How mentor training can lead to more effective STEM mentoring relationships

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Stelter, R. L., Kupersmidt, J. B., & Stump, K. N. (2020). Establishing effective STEM mentoring relationships through mentor training. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, n/a(n/a).

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although many mentors in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) mentoring programs are well-informed about the subject of STEM, many still have an insufficient understanding about what it takes to establish effective relationships with young mentees. 
  • This study aims to review articles that either offer recommendations for promoting inclusion in STEM mentoring training or information on the current statuses of implementing these specialized STEM mentoring programs.
  • Four subject areas to include in STEM mentor training were identified: 
    • views and knowledge about STEM career achievement disparities, 
    • mentoring roles that push for STEM outcomes, 
    • behaviors that encourage mentees to develop positive opinions about STEM,
    • having program‐specific topics for mentor training.
  • More efforts need to be made to prepare mentors to effectively support their mentees in pursuing a STEM education and/or career.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) mentoring programs typically have the goals of generating interest and excitement in STEM topics and careers and supporting STEM career achievement persistence. These outcomes are fostered through positive and trusting relationships with mentors. Mentors in STEM programs often have extensive subject matter expertise in a STEM content area, but they may lack the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that are important for establishing an effective mentoring relationship with a young person. The purpose of this review is to describe (1) a set of topics recommended for inclusion in STEM mentor training, based on a literature review, and (2) the current state of implementation of these recommended training topics among STEM mentoring programs in the United States. We have identified four major topic areas to include in the training of STEM mentors: (1) knowledge and attitudes regarding disparities in STEM career achievement, (2) mentor roles that promote STEM outcomes, (3) behaviors to promote mentees’ positive attitudes about STEM, and (4) program‐specific topics. Training for mentors should prepare them with the knowledge they need to support their mentee being successful in a STEM education or career while fostering the skills they need to establish an effective mentoring relationship.

Implications (Reprinted from the Conclusion)

The world is currently experiencing an unprecedented global health pandemic, highlighting the importance of and need for more STEM professionals in the United States and worldwide for tackling the public health and technology challenges that arise during a public health crisis. STEM mentoring programs aim to promote STEM interest and career development in young people to help fill the gap in the number of youths entering and staying in a STEM career, in general, and youth from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers, in particular. The first goal of this review was to identify the training topics that are important for preparing volunteers to be effective STEM mentors. The four main topics recommended in this review are based upon a comprehensive review of the literature on training in STEM mentoring and validated by a national survey of STEM mentoring programs for youth. In addition, common obstacles preventing the development of an interest in STEM, retention in STEM majors and careers, and STEM career achievement were identified and discussed. This review examined the literature on STEM mentoring across all ages and levels of education, including the literature on STEM mentoring in higher education, which provided rigorous evaluation studies and greater details about specific practices used by programs, and the literature on STEM career pathways and barriers to STEM career achievement more generally. The themes for training topics identified in this review are hypothesized to be important for STEM mentors for youth elementary through high school age. These recommendations are based on our current knowledge of the barriers faced by youth in pursuing a STEM career and how STEM mentors can be most effective in supporting mentees in addressing these barriers, building assets, and leveraging their strengths. The current review does not make specific recommendations regarding how much time should be devoted to training on each topic, but rather focuses on the rationale for why each topic should be included in the training of all STEM mentors. The specific mentee population, goals of the program, and mentor background, among other factors, will influence how much time is spent on each of these topics. Future research should examine the unique impact of training on STEM mentoring relationship outcomes.

The second goal of this review was to assess the current state of implementation of the recommended training topics for STEM mentors. Results from a small sample of STEM mentoring programs suggest that the majority of programs are covering the topics related to the mentor’s role in promoting STEM outcomes and how mentors can promote mentees’ positive attitudes about STEM but are not covering the recommended topics related to mentor’s knowledge and attitudes regarding disparities in STEM career achievement. Currently, the United States is experiencing a significant societal movement to promote racial equity in all aspects of life. Mentoring organizations are taking note and recognizing the need for volunteers to be prepared to actively address issues of racial bias and stereotyping in their mentees’ lives and in their mentoring relationships. Training on these topics is particularly important when one of the goals of the mentoring program is to encourage the mentees they serve who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group to pursue a career in STEM. The critical mentoring approach described in this review provides a framework for how STEM mentoring programs can foster racial equity in their programs, including the preparation and training of mentors. As described in this review, STEM mentors should receive training that helps them understand the context in which their mentee is living. This topic is particularly relevant if their mentee is a member of a racial or ethnic minority group. Furthermore, mentor training should be designed to prepare STEM mentors to have supportive and helpful conversations with their mentees about their mentees’ experiences with racism and bias, as well as training in how to support their mentees in coping with, and overcoming, structural barriers they may face in their STEM‐related jobs or education. These conversations can serve to acknowledge these experiences, support mentees in coping with these experiences, and provide opportunities for mentors and mentees to work together to challenge the underlying systemic problems that contribute to injustice.

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